West Virginia surged to the lead with less than a furlong to go and held on to defeat 65-1 outsider Zoffinger in the $190,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) Sunday at Monmouth Park. The winner, ridden by Jose Velez Jr., survived an objection for drifting out into the path of the runner-up.
Sent off at odds of 16-1, Donald and Roberta Mary Zuckerman's New York homebred recorded a one-length victory over Zoffinger, who was ridden by Eddie King. Purge, the 6-5 favorite in the field of eight, sputtered in the stretch after a ground-saving trip under Chris DeCarlo and reached the wire third, 4 1/4 lengths behind West Virginia.
Todd Pletcher, who won Saturday's Travers (gr. I) with Flower Alley, trains both West Virginia and Purge.
"He was really on his toes in the paddock today," Pletcher said of the winner. "You just knew that he was feeling good."
A 4-year-old colt by Tomorrows Cat, from the Kennedy Road mare Wild and Wonderful, West Virginia sat second off aggressive fractions set by Presidentialaffair before moving past that foe and coming home in 1:50 4/5 for the 1 1/8 mile.
The winner returned $34.20, $12.80, and $8. Zoffinger finished a length behind the winner completing, a $1,016.60 exacta and paying $40.60 and $8.60. Purge paid $3.20 to show.
Presidentialaffair, chased by Cherokee's Boy, opened up a 5 1/2-length lead while cutting fractions of :23 1/5, :46 and 1:09 4/5, but had little left when tackled by West Virginia, who emerged with a clear lead in mid-stretch. But Velez switched to left-handed urging as Zoffinger closed in and West Virginia shifted outward. Zoffinger steadied slightly, losing some ground, and was coming on again as they reached the wire.
King claimed foul against the winner, alleging interference in the stretch, but that was denied by the stewards.
"My horse came out a little bit in the stretch, but I think at the same time Eddie's horse was coming in," said Velez. "I got a little nervous when they looked at it for so long, but it all worked out well.
"I didn't want to be anywhere near the pacesetter. My horse settled nicely. When we were turning for home, I didn't really see anyone coming, so I thought I had a great shot to win it."
West Virginia was coming off a second-pace finish in the 1 1/16-mile Shipman Handicap for New York breds at Belmont Park July 24 and had lost five races in a row since winning the Albany over 3-year-olds a year ago.
"He ran a great race last time in New York, and I think the extra (sixteenth) of a mile really helped him," Pletcher said. "The Empire Classic (Oct. 22 at Belmont) is his goal, but he might have a race before then."
West Virginia, who is not Breeders' Cup nominated, earned $90,000 for his Iselin win, which improved his bankroll to $590,870. His record stands at 6-3-1 from 16 starts.
Presidentialaffair took fourth, followed by Cherokee's Boy, the second and third choices in the field of eight, with the Irish-bred Billy Allen, Go Now, and Cuba trailing. Cointreau and One Nice Cat scratched.